New Groups Find DeVos Place


    GRAND RAPIDS — After nearly two years of hosting meetings, conventions and tradeshows, the customer snapshot for

    DeVos Place

    is beginning to develop.

    Convention and Visitors Bureau President Steve Wilson recently told the Convention and Arena Authority that religious and hobby groups are turning out to be growth markets. But at the same time, new markets are emerging from health, corporate and ethic associations.

    Nearly 60,000 of the 102,000 room nights projected to be filled at hotels and motels in the county next year will come from meetings booked at

    DeVos Place

    . Religious and hobby groups are most apt to try new buildings and are expected to fill 8,372 of those room nights, while health, corporate and ethnic organizations should account for 11,960 nights.

    Wilson added that state associations, educational groups and sporting events continue to be reliable customers for meetings here. Educational professionals alone should book as many room nights next year as the health, corporate and ethnic groups combined.

    “Every group is evaluated on what they can contribute to us,” said Wilson

    But one clientele that is falling by the roadside is the motor-coach industry. Wilson said motor-coach meetings were once worth 5,000 room nights a year to lodging operators. That number has dropped to 3,000, and just two associations are booking half those nights.

    The drop in convention business here is indicative of the bumpy road motor-coach operators have traveled in recent years, as many of their former customers are now in a do-it-yourself mode.

    “They are buying their own motor coach, dressing it up like a rock star and driving across the country,” he said.

    Whatever type of group meets at DeVos Place, it’s almost a given that someone from the area helped deliver the meeting to the building. Wilson said that 83 percent of all convention center bookings are assisted by a local resident. In two weeks, the CVB will hold a special event to honor those who have helped bring meetings here and to salute the groups that have met here more than once.

    “A big part of our sales effort is getting the word out locally,” said Wilson, whose bureau has a $2.9 million budget for 2006.

    Business from DeVos Place is expected to be worth 59,800 room nights to the local lodging industry next year, a figure that is up nearly 8,000 from this year and 18,000 from 2004.     

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